The average school child may not know about the shutdown of the federal government today; that’s the kind of news headline that makes ten-year-olds reach for their ear buds and tune out. But if your child participates in any federally-funded programs associated with his school, the impact became obvious today, to parents and children alike.
Head Start is among the most well-known and widely used early child care programs that was shuttered today across the nation due to the federal government's inability to reach a budget consensus. Facilities that operate on a fiscal year that starts each October 1 were forced to tell employees to stay home today and turn away families with no other source of reliable day care. The care facilities aim to keep children in a safe environment at no cost to disadvantaged families and help prepare them for entrance into pre-K and kindergarten schools. In addition, children who attend Head Start programs often receive their only real meals at the centers. Grants are issued throughout the year, so some facilities will stay open for the time being, but no new grants can be issued until a budget agreement is reached. Locations whose grant expires on October 31st may be turning away children come November 1 as well.
WIC, which provides services for low-income pregnant women and young children, is facing total closure during this government shutdown. This means that those children may lack, formula, diapers, and medical care unless funding is restored. Information about specific North County WIC programs can be found on the WIC California website.
For older children, after school tutoring and extended day programs that receive federal funding will be at least partially affected. Programs under the AmeriCorps umbrella provide low cost nutrition services, tutoring, sports, and after school supervision through organizations such as FoodCorp, the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Reading Partners. All of these programs will likely face cutbacks as their grants are not renewed.
School breakfast and lunch programs, which fall under the USDA’s Child Nutrition programs, are operating for now due to carryover funding that will make paying the providers at the end of this month possible. Continuation of these and related nutrition programs is dependent on a budget agreement by November.
An academic impact might be felt in the closure of the Library of Congress, and the National Archives. Any student or teacher trying to do research, find primary documents online, or watch archival film or video recordings will be hindered by the generic message, “Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available. We sincerely regret this inconvenience. For information about available government services, visit USD.gov.” NASA’s television feed and website have gone dark as well, pointing the viewer to the USD.gov message as well. The website of the Jet Propulsion Lab, a NASA affiliate linked to the California Institute of Technology, is available but displays a message that it is not being updated due to the shutdown. All Smithsonian museums have been closed also, but the Smithsonian website remains open (despite a red banner at the top stating the closure of the museums and the National Zoo.)
Perhaps most worrisome for families and schools is the stoppage of operations at the Centers for Disease Control, which formulates and supplies seasonal flu vaccines. The CDC’s web page regarding seasonal influenza was last updated on September 26, 2013. It is unlikely there will be timely updates to the flu outbreak map and other critical health information during the budget stalemate. Just as flu season is getting under way, shortage of vaccine and inability to respond to outbreaks of any kind could cripple public schools.
Some of our legislators may be trying to patch up this bitter debate, but far too many of them are abusing the livelihoods and well-being of our nation's youth, not to mention the elderly, disabled, and average hard working citizens. It's like bickering parents putting the kids into time out; they say they are fighting for our benefit, but it is the citizens who are being hurt. Your daughter may claim she can't do her homework tonight because she can't find the Civil War document she needs online, or your son may miss a week of school because he couldn't get his flu shot this year, but it's our elected members of Congress who are acting like juveniles.